Virtual Reality in Healthcare is Arriving in Scandinavia
Virtual reality (VR) has been out there for quite some time but only lately has there been several affordable virtual reality devices entering the market such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Playstation VR etc. What is meant here when talking about virtual reality, is the depiction of a simulated environment which allows the user to interact with it while having user’s head movements tracked in a 3D world. The main focus is currently on the gaming and entertainment industry, but there is a lot of potential in other areas, healthcare being one of them. The VR and Augmented reality market in healthcare is projected to be worth $2.54 billion by 2020. There are many applications of VR in healthcare ranging from different types of surgery simulations, dentistry, rehabilitation, phobia treatment and medical education and training.
These trends have not been neglected in Scandinavia where several companies are taking advantage of VR technology to create practical applications for helping different types of patients.
VR for helping stroke patients
A medtech company Brain Stimulation from Umeå has developed a new treatment for stroke patients that combines virtual reality with robotics. In order to help people who have suffered from stroke gain back their mobility, they have developed a virtual reality game, RehAtt, which involves moving virtual objects with special joystick and wearing VR glasses, making rehabilitation more stimulating and fun. The game is scientifically designed to improve attention and a sense of touch. According to its designers, it can improve mobility after only 15 hours of gameplay. It is currently being evaluated in stroke clinics in anticipation of the commercial launch this year.
VR aiding in rehabilitation
A Danish start-up Kanda are all about using technologies from the gaming industry and applying it towards improving people’s health. Currently they are also working with virtual reality to aid people in their rehabilitation process. Since rehabilitation after an accident can be very difficult, they believe that by applying a VR game context into it, they can motivate people to persist with their physical therapy and make it more fun for them to endure rehabilitation. If patients are more concentrated on playing with their VR glasses, they may get less tired which may help them to work for longer periods making the whole rehab quicker, less painful and more effective. One of their games used for gaining mobility in the arm is VRiAT, Virtual Reality intensive Arm Training for which a video can be viewed here.
VR can help in treating phobias
Virtual reality can also be used in treating depression or different kinds of phobias. Per Calbring, professor of clinical psychology at Stockholm University believes that VR is going to be a standard method in treating phobias. In collaboration with Stockholm University, a Swedish startup Mimerse has developed a VR game Itsy (“itsy bitsy spider”) for treating patients with arachnophobia (fear of spiders). The game starts by player only being exposed to a spider and as it advances the player needs to interact with and be “nice” to the spider and help it in order to feel sympathy for the spiders. A study suggests that it is easier to get people into treatment which uses VR than the traditional treatment method. Currently a randomized clinical trial is ongoing in order to assess this treatment method. Further goals of this startup is to tackle other phobias and automate mental health treatments with VR further.
VR for surgical training
Another area where VR can be very helpful is surgical or dental simulation training. A Stockholm-based company SenseGraphics develops medical simulation software for different types of procedures such as eye surgery, dental simulation, laparoscopy, endoscopy etc. Their aim is to make the learning environment as realistic as possible with high-quality graphics, surgical tools and haptic feedback to increase the skills of medical personnel so they would make less mistakes in real life environment.
The VR technology is still in its early stages and has yet to prove its value. For it to be most effective, the applications need to be easy to use and designed based on the needs of their target user group, not only focusing on technology but also its usability.